My thoughts on the CWA’s best crime novel, author and series

Last night the The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) celebrated their 60th anniversary at Foyles bookshop in London. They used the event to announce the results of their poll to discover the best ever crime novel, writer and series. EVER.

(Where was I? Bonfire night in South Norfolk. The sausage rolls were great, though.)

I’ve blogged previously about these categories being guaranteed to give predictable results, and guess what…

CWA Best Ever Novel: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
CWA Best Ever Crime Author: Agatha Christie
CWA Best Ever Crime Series: Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Although there has been some jockeying for position, there’s not much difference here to their 45th anniversary poll:

Best ever crime writer: Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers

Best novel: Sayers’ The Nine Tailors (1934), Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1939) and Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (1868)

Best series: Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, followed by Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

Asking different questions might have made for a more interesting story, at least. Favourite living crime writer? Most overrated series? Most underrated novel? Funniest book? Who made you want to write crime?

While I’m asking questions, what about the shortlists? Just one European author – seriously? And only four Americans (I’m including Chandler)? (And I’m also wondering if Elmore Leonard only made it because of his recent death. Not that he doesn’t deserve his inclusion.)

The Shortlists

CWA Best Ever Novel

The Big Sleep (1939) by Raymond Chandler
Gorky Park (1981) by Martin Cruz Smith
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Long Goodbye (1953) by Raymond Chandler
The Moonstone (1868) by Wilkie Collins
Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926) by Agatha Christie

The Nine Tailors (1934) by Dorothy L Sayers
On Beulah Height (1998) by Reginald Hill
The Silence of the Lambs (1988) by Thomas Harris

CWA Best Ever Crime Author

Raymond Chandler
Agatha Christie
Arthur Conan Doyle
Dashiell Hammett
Reginald Hill
PD James
Elmore Leonard
Ruth Rendell
Dorothy L Sayers
Georges Simenon

CWA Best Ever Crime Series

Albert Campion – Margery Allingham
Adam Dalgliesh – PD James
Dalziel & Pascoe – Reginald Hill
Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
Philip Marlowe – Raymond Chandler
Inspector Morse – Colin Dexter
Hercule Poirot – Agatha Christie
John Rebus – Ian Rankin
Lord Peter Wimsey – Dorothy L Sayers

I’m sure the 600 members of the CWA must have more to offer than this simple retread. The recent Books to Die For might have been unsystematic and full of gaps, but it threw up a few surprises and smacked of personal choice rather than a dutiful homage to the pantheon.

If any of my readers went, I’d be interested to know what the reaction was on the night.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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13 Responses to My thoughts on the CWA’s best crime novel, author and series

  1. All good points Rich – does seem to be rather a stagnant pool that they are drawing on. The votes for Christie would make more sense if it were for the most popular (certainly in commercial terms) but I think more people know the twist of ACKROYD than have actually read it (I’ve never thought it was her best book personally)


    • westwoodrich says:

      I somehow managed to get to Ackroyd without hearing the twist, but that was probably pre-Internet (which seems incredible; I can’t remember how one found things out). I’ve only read a dozen or so Christies and I think it’s the one I remember best – but probably only because of the twist. It’s on my reading list for the next few months so I’ll see what I think.


      • I think there are other books of hers that are more satisfying as novels, such as AFTER THE FLOOD and CROOKED HOUSE (her personal foucirite apparently) for instance, and while it does have the stunning surprise (which, as is fairly well known, was not her own idea but suggested by her brother-in-law), I prefer A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED or maybe ABC in terms of mixing plot and characters – I find it hard to remember much about ACKROYD other than the ending, but that’s just me …


      • westwoodrich says:


        I remember the marrows, but I didn’t know that about the twist not being her idea – thanks.

        Of those picks, I have only read A Murder is Announced, although ABC is in the house (and I’ve also visited the park in Torquay where something I haven’t read about happened). Did you know a Crooked House movie is in the pipeline?


      • I remember reading about a movie a few years ago that Julian Fellows was going to write with Neil LaBute directing – did that actually happen then? I always assumed it was one of the books likely to be Marple-ised for the TV series …


  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this, Rich. It’s always such a balance when you think of ‘the best of the best.’ On the onehand, personal taste matters. On the other, there are authors who’ve had a powerful impact on the genre and shouldn’t be ignored, whether one personally likes their work or not. I appreciate the summing-up (and can’t argue with the CWA’s position on Christie 😉 ).


    • westwoodrich says:

      Hi Margot. It’s true that Christie and Conan Doyle have done the genre more favours than any other writer. It’s just I think a longer list, or more categories, would encourage readers to explore further (which would surely help the CWA’s current members, too).


  3. Rebecca says:

    As someone who’s woefully underread any of the shortlisted books/series/authors, I’m more interested in finding out why they were nominated. Before the Oscars there are tons of articles about the nominated actors/movies/screenplays, etc: why not the same before one of these polls?


    • westwoodrich says:

      Good point – the longlist (if there was one) could have biased the results. I’m reading through the CWA’s 1989 list of 100 crime novels, which wasn’t controlled, and while the top 10 is largely similar to the new list, Rebecca, The Daughter of Time and The Spy Who… also get in there.


  4. Sarah says:

    Oh dear. Well I’m one of the members and my vote for the three categories were: AC’s ‘Crooked House’, Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. As you’ll see from my blog I read a lot of CF but the poll was was billed as an ‘all time favourite’ and frankly these are mine. I could reread AC and Sherlock Holmes ’till the cows come home. My guess is that other members voted in a similar fashion.


  5. TracyK says:

    I haven’t reread enough Christie recently to have a favorite, but I did read Crooked House based on Sarah’s recommendation and I enjoyed it immensely. I am looking forward to your review.


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